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Opinion & Analysis

#ThinkingAllowed: ‘I’ll add you on Facebook’

For many of us social media is a way to stay in touch with the people we care about. Now that I’m in London, I find it a good link to home and I use Facebook and Whatsapp to write and hear from family and friends.
I was at a party recently. It had the usual element - drinks, food and people laughing and enjoying themselves. One traditional element which has changed though is that during the evening no-one exchanged phone numbers - it was unnecessary.
“Let me add you on Facebook”, they said, and it happened there and then.
We will only ever ‘chat’ again with those we found we had a real connection with. Even as they punch in their name into your phone app, you are secretly hoping to be able to ignore some of them in the future. A couple of years down the line we will look at our list of friends and not recognise a number of names on it.
Many of us do not attach any importance to adding a stranger we have just met to Facebook. We do not pause to think what sort of access they will have to our lives and the pictures we have posted.
Over the past few years the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority has done a lot of work on raising awareness on privacy issues. In a community where the number of Facebook friends we have is well above the average, it’s important to check our privacy settings.
The popularity of Instagram and Snapchat, which continues on the up, might also be cause for concern given they are specifically designed for the exchange and publication of photographs.
Are we really thinking about what we share?
The GRA has been conducting surveys with students under their “schools awareness raising programme” since the academic year 2013/14. They have recently completed their fourth annual survey and they tell me the results are likely to be published in April or May.
It will be interesting to see whether trends they have identified in the past continue or have changed - including that a third of students hardly ever use appropriate privacy controls and that one in five students reveal information about others without their consent.
There were also positive trends in these surveys, including the increased focus by Year 7 and Year 9 students on their privacy. Perhaps, as we become increasingly savvy with new technologies, this too will improve.
I’ve said this before, social media is and can be a wonderful tool. But…
Facebook has been in the news again this week for all the wrong reasons - it has been criticised for its handling of reports about sexualised images of children on its platform. It has come under criticism by the chairman of the Commons media committee, Damian Collins. He said he had "grave doubts" about the effectiveness of its content moderation systems.
It followed the fact that the BBC had reported dozens of images to Facebook's community managers, but in 80% of cases Facebook reportedly failed to act. The BBC also found five convicted paedophiles with profiles, and reported them to Facebook via its own system. It says none of them were taken down.
It’s not the only problem. Online platforms are fast becoming a place where the law doesn’t seem to exist - or at least where some think the law will not catch up with them. Increasingly I’m coming across nasty and inappropriate comments (yes, I’m referring to Gibraltar pages and people now). It makes me wonder whether these platforms are creating monsters or whether they have just always existed and this is just exposing them or bringing out the worst in them.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but it comes with responsibilities and we must all be accountable for our words, no matter where and in what form we use them.
I also read many comments on social forums that any official newspaper or broadcaster would never get away with. In some cases, as has happened in the UK where Twitter users have named rape victims, those responsible have been arrested. But who can police the ongoing tsunami of comments? Is it at all possible?
It also seems that in some cases we are becoming a society (this is not just exclusive to Gibraltar) of vigilantes by taking the law into our own hands, often in a game of name and shame. This is dangerous and can erode that great sense of community spirit we have.
Social media is not the place to report or expose crime. Let it not be a playground for insults either.
I think it’s great that everyone can and has a voice, but use it wisely. As the famous quote goes: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

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